Rosberg wins inter-team battle to secure Bahrain pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix after edging out teammate Lewis Hamilton in a tight inter-team battle on Saturday night in Bahrain.

The German driver’s time of 1:33.185 was good enough to secure him pole after Hamilton made a mistake in Q3, costing him a shot at bettering his teammate’s time and forcing him to settle for second place. Rosberg’s first lap had been 0.279 seconds faster than Hamilton’s initial effort, allowing him to pit and save a set of tires.

Daniel Ricciardo put in a good performance for Red Bull to line up third, but teammate Sebastian Vettel endured a disastrous session and dropped out in Q2 for the second time in three races.

Qualifying got underway as night fell in Bahrain, and many of the drivers got out early in the first session in order to post a banker lap time. Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver to cross the line, but his initial effort was soon bettered by compatriot Sergio Perez and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the latter setting the first serious benchmark of 1:36.883. Daniel Ricciardo was the first to beat the German driver, edging him out by two-tenths of a second, and Fernando Alonso followed suit to move up into second place.

Predictably, Mercedes quickly took control of the session with its first lap times as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg moved into the top two positions, and enjoyed an advantage of more than one second over the rest of the field. Williams opted to keep its drivers in the pits to begin with before making a late run, and Valtteri Bottas immediately went P2 on the soft tire behind Hulkenberg, who had also made the switch to softs, and their teammates rallied to fill out the top four come the checkered flag.

As expected, the Caterham and Marussia drivers dropped out at the end of Q1, and they were joined by Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado, with the latter being edged out by his teammate by 0.009 seconds. At the end of the session, Sutil appeared to deliberately block Grosjean, and earned himself a visit to the stewards’ office.

Q2 started in a quiet fashion as all of the drivers opted to sit in the pits for the first few minutes, but Bottas, Massa and Hulkenberg soon broke the silence and came out on soft tires. As this was the first dry qualifying of the season, it marked the first time that the new rule about starting the race on the Q2 tire came into force, meaning that drivers had to be extra careful not to overwork their Pirellis.

After seeing Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen trade fastest lap times, Hamilton soon restored normal service to move up to P1, but the gap was smaller this time as Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso managed to get within one second of the Mercedes driver. Nico Rosberg refused to waver in his teammate’s presence, and moved up to first place. Williams opted to run on the medium tire in its first runs, whilst Sebastian Vettel remained in the pits and rested his hopes on one run at the end of the session.

Mercedes’ advantage was so great that both Hamilton and Rosberg could stay in the pits and save a set of tires, whilst the remaining 14 drivers all headed out for a final run. Vettel’s one and only lap time was nowhere near being good enough, and he dropped out of qualifying as a result, lamenting a gearbox problem. Compatriot Nico Hulkenberg also struggled and ended up in 12th place, whilst Toro Rosso’s dry pace wasn’t good enough to get either Jean-Eric Vergne or Daniil Kvyat into the top ten. They were joined in the dropzone by Gutierrez and Grosjean.

For the final part of qualifying, most of the drivers fitted a set of the soft tires and aimed to do two runs as the conditions became cooler, but Raikkonen bided his time and sat in the pits to begin with. Valtteri Bottas posted the first lap time of the session, and remained in P1 ahead of Perez and Massa until Nico Rosberg crossed the line over one second faster than the Finn. His only realistic challenger – teammate Lewis Hamilton – was three-tenths adrift with his first run, handing provisional pole to Rosberg after the first set of runs.

The drivers returned to the pits to regroup and fit a fresh set of tires, and all ten hit the track with two minutes to go so they could put in one final time. However, a mistake by Lewis Hamilton meant that he could not improve on his previous best lap time, handing pole to Rosberg by two-tenths of a second. Ricciardo improved to move up to P3, but he will drop down ten places on the grid due to a penalty. Bottas ran well to finish fourth ahed of Perez and Raikkonen, whilst Alonso struggled immensely and finished down in 10th place for Ferrari.

Having finished with a one-two in every practice session so far this weekend, Mercedes’ dominance came as little surprise on Saturday night. The team will now need to ensure that it gets its drivers home in the same positions tomorrow, but both Rosberg and Hamilton will be desperate to claim their second win of the season.

INDYCAR: Zach Veach ready for stronger second half of season

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If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.

Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.

The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.

The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.

He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.

He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.

Zach Veach, driver of the #26 Relay Group 1001 Honda, practices for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.

“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”

While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.

“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.

“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”

Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.

“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.

“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.

“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”

While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.

“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.

“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”

With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.

“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.

“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”

Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.

“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”

And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.

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